Old houses are the best. But when you know their stories, they’re even better.
My wife and I have been together almost 25 years, and that whole time I’ve heard her family talk about “Point Washington.” It came up any time they gathered. And when it did, everyone smiled.
I remember thinking early on, “What’s a Point Washington and why is it such a big deal?” Now I know.
First of all, Point Washington is a place. A teensy, magical place on the Florida Panhandle. The community sprouted around a successful sawmill on the Choctawhatchee Bay shortly after the Civil War.
In classic Florida mill-town style, there was a general store, a couple of country churches, the mill owner’s mansion, and a little colony of wood-frame cottages. All beneath an unbroken canopy of yellow pine, bald cypress, and muscular live oaks. Classic North Florida.
Point Washington is also a home, at least to our family. An 800 square-foot wooden cottage built in the Florida Cracker style. The cottage was built by one of my wife’s descendants more than 80 years ago. Different family members lived in it for almost six decades, but it has sat quiet and empty under its sheltering oaks for the last three.
While I had gone with my wife once or twice over the years to the cottage, I never paid it much mind because the lot was completely overgrown. I never got close to the house; I assumed it was, after that many years of neglect, a pile of mealy clapboards, taken back into the earth it came from. It wasn’t until November of 2017 that I discovered how wrong I was.
I had attended a wedding at the nearby Eden Garden State Park and figured I would stop by the cottage, maybe crawl through the underbrush to get a peek at what was left.
What I found thrilled me. The cottage was not only still there, it was remarkably well preserved. Grappled by vines and smothered in oak leaves, but hanging on. Most of the kitchen appliances, some furniture, and even a creaky iron bed frame were still there, just where the last residents left them. It was a pretty little time capsule.
Now when I say it was well preserved, I mean for an octogenarian wooden box in a brutal humid climate that had been untouched and unprotected for half my lifetime. It needs works. Lots.
But that’s the fun. The bones and soul were still there. The Point Washington cottage is a total charmer and I was spellbound. I knew that moment that I wanted to rebuild it.
I called my wife on the way home and ran the idea by her.
“Sue [her aunt] owns it,” she said. “I don’t know if she would be interested. If she is, though, knock yourself out.”
I called Sue—nervously—and made my pitch. What she said stunned and elated me.
“Kevin, I’ve always known I didn’t want to Point Washington to go to a stranger. I always wanted it to go to a family member. I’d be happy for you to have it.”
And just like that, I was made part of the Point Washington family history.
My dream is to restore the Point Washington cottage and ensure that it lives to make more history. It will take all of my renovation skills and then some to get it done. But I can’t think of a more enjoyable and worthwhile job.
I’m excited, nervous (okay, scared), honored, and humbled to have this opportunity, and I want you to share it with me. I am going to film this adventure as I go. I’d like to do it documentary style and include the stories of those who know the cottage best, my wife’s family.
Join me! I don’t know how long it will take (I have a day job that takes most of my time, dangit), but it should be fun. Don’t you think?
Let’s make history together.